Alexandra “Alex” Woo (pictured), the award-winning designer whose “little” charms had an outsize impact, died of cancer on March 30. She was 47.
Woo was a “true jewelry icon,” read an Instagram post from her company, Alex Woo Inc. “Over an illustrious twenty years, she told countless stories through her designs, and they quickly became an extension of who she was.”
Company spokesperson Margaret Kennedy says Alex Woo plans to continue the designer’s legacy, but that it is too early to share information about any such future plans.
“She was a remarkable woman, and we will miss her dearly,” she adds.
Woo was born in New York City, and her creative bent showed itself early. “When all of my friends were playing with dolls and toys, I would sit for hours simply drawing and sketching,” she once told 1968 Magazine.
Her father was a bench jeweler, and she was raised “with a definite appreciation for gems, precious metals, and fine craftsmanship,” she said in a 2013 interview with JCK.
She helped her dad sell jewelry during holiday weekends in middle school, and designed her first piece when she was around 8 years old: “It was a two-tone pendant—silver and brass. I hand-cut the metals with a saw and then made it shine on a polishing machine all by myself.”
While attending Cornell University, she met her husband, Edward Huang, whom she married in 2003. Post-graduation, she studied jewelry at Parsons School of Design, and “truly discovered [a] passion for” the art form, she said.
In 1998, at the urging of a professor, she entered the Women’s Jewelry Association’s DIVA Awards for jewelry design—and was shocked when, out of 100 entrants, her diamond and pearl brooch nabbed the grand prize. She took home $1,000—and an increased belief in herself.
“[I was] competing with professional designers from all across the country,” she told JCK. “That gave me a vote of confidence.”
In 2001, Woo, still in her 20s, founded her own jewelry company. One of her first big breaks came in 2003, when email newsletter Daily Candy profiled her brand. The article drove such a huge amount of traffic to her website that the site was temporarily knocked offline.
Her Little Numbers and Little Letters collections soon became celebrity favorites, worn by Kelly Ripa and Eva Longoria.
“I get the biggest charge when I see people wearing my pieces,” Woo told Crain’s New York Business, which named her one of 2005’s 40 Under 40. “I always want to introduce myself and say, ‘Hey, I made that.’ ”
In 2006, the JCK Show chose her as one of six “Rising Stars” in its Design Center.
As Woo’s star rose even further, she entered into high-profile collaborations with Christina Applegate, Major League Baseball, and Pixar for films such as Incredibles 2 and Coco. In 2013, a young Carrie Bradshaw sported one of Woo’s pieces on the premiere of Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries. Her work also showed up regularly on Gossip Girl.
Through it all, Woo remained a perfectionist, one who took her craft seriously and gave it a personal stamp.
“Sometimes a design is re-done 50 times until I feel it’s perfect,” she told 1968. “My designs are all an extension of who I am, so it’s important that they reflect my vision.”
She also never forgot that her work had an emotional component.
“Jewelry can just be an inanimate object, but the meaning that a person puts behind it, that’s what makes the jewelry special,” she said. “So when you open your jewelry box, and you say, ‘Wow, that’s something my husband gave to me on my first anniversary,’ that brings back memories, and it’s almost like a photo.
“I want [my jewelry] to be something that they’re going to treasure for a long time, and then hopefully pass it on to their children.”
Her friends and fans included Jennifer Gandia, co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers in New York City, who came up with Woo in the industry.
“It was…impossible not to like her,” Gandia wrote in a Facebook post. “Alex was passionate, creative, smart, caring, and had a megawatt smile that would light up the entire room. In an industry where so much that is applauded is derivative, reimagined, and predictable Alex Woo jewels were the holy grail of design—they were original.
“Alex sincerely wanted to create a legacy with joyful fine jewelry to celebrate life—and she succeeded.”
Jewelers of America director of PR and events Amanda Gizzi calls Woo’s passing “a devastating loss” for the industry.
“Alex was an incredible woman who was as kind and passionate as she was strong and intelligent,” Gizzi says. “Alex was always a trailblazer. She understood what it took to be successful and she created a business model that will inspire the next generation of jewelry designers.”
Woo is survived by her husband and their son, Alexander.
A funeral service was held April 2 in Sarasota, Fla.
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